LAPORTE | Jerry Kabelin remembers the uproar that ensued when Santa lost his head for a spell one year – a sign of the special place that the statue has in the hearts of LaPorte residents.
Kabelin was part of a group of downtown merchants who helped bring the symbol of the holidays to LaPorte in the early 1960s. At the time, he was the third generation to own Kabelin True Value Hardware, which is now Kabelin Ace Hardware and a fourth generation family-owned business.
“We bought it in (Frankenmuth) Michigan as we wanted a focal point for downtown,” said Kabelin. “It was a joint effort long before when shopping centers came into effect. We put him on the courthouse lawn to go with the Santa chalet that had been built.”
The statue marks the holiday season – waving to passers-by – from about mid-November to the end of December from its place on the downtown lawn. Broken down into three parts, it’s made of fiberglass on a wood skeleton.
“It's the only place it's ever stood, right where it is right now, its entire life,” said Dick Zigler, who has helped maintain the statue over the years.
Zigler began helping take care of Santa back in 1964 as a member of the LaPorte Fire Department and has volunteered his time to keep him looking his best.
“I had body shop experience and also painting experience, so as it got bruised, tattered, broken and what have you, that is where my expertise came in,” he said. “I didn’t mind doing it. I did it for the city and especially for the kids who enjoy it. I am 73 and a kid at heart when it comes to Christmas.”
Mary Jane Thomas, LaPorte city planner, said, “Santa’s longevity is an integral part of the LaPorte holiday season. The care Dick has volunteered to maintain Santa over the last 50 years is the sign of our community’s commitment to tradition.”
It is a tradition that is rooted in childhood memories for many residents.
“I can remember the courthouse Santa from my childhood and it always triggers memories of a magical time of year,” said LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo. "I would get so excited to see him appear since it signaled that the beginning of the Christmas season – the season I wait for all year – was finally upon us.
"It’s been great to see the response on Facebook from LaPorteans all over the country who have similar memories, reminding them of fond times in our great community. It’s equally exciting to hear the new stories of little ones today feeling that same thrill, even shouting, ‘Look, Mama, big HoHoHo!’”
Kabelin added, “I think kids grow up seeing it and they have kids and those kids see it and it is a tradition that has survived all of these years. It’s a sign of the good times and the Christmas spirit, and I think he still looks cool.”
The special sign of the season will continue to be celebrated year after year.
“I am not from LaPorte, but the 30 years I have been here, Santa is a local icon,” Thomas said.
“It is a traditional mainstay, and without him, I guess it wouldn’t feel like Christmas to a lot of people,” Zigler added.